It was days before the Fourth of July 2006 when Ali realized she was in love. To this day, that weekend spent with her future husband, Drew Bicknell, on Perry Lake, 40 miles west of Kansas City, is still the one she considers her life’s best.
As was often the case with Drew, it was the little things, simple sentences and the emotion with which they were delivered, both on that trip and for the duration of their eight-year relationship, that made Ali thankful she had serendipitously run into Drew, her godfather’s nephew’s good friend, at a friend’s house that Kansas City night in 2005, a year before their Perry Lake trip.
“The day we made future plans to be together, I remember not being able to get into a tube on [Perry Lake],” says Ali. “Drew had so much patience and kept saying things like ‘you got this’ and ‘you can do it.’” It was seemingly routine moments like these that made Ali not only believe in Drew as a future life partner but in herself. And as encouraging and loving as he was verbally, Drew’s actions spoke even louder than his words.
The sparkle he had in his eye when he talked about Tough Mudder was so cool.
Being from small-town Minnesota, where her family, including three older sisters, lived, any sort of relocation, let alone one across state borders, could only be in the name of true love. And for Ali, Drew fit that bill.
In late 2006, Drew encouraged Ali to get out of her comfort zone and join him in Kansas, where, at the time, he had been working for two years as a project manager for a company that sold corporate office furniture. “He made me believe in myself and want to do more with life,” Ali says. “In the end, he was the one and he was worth it.”
After moving to Kansas, Drew and Ali’s relationship organically evolved. The long-distance lovers turned into a live-in couple planning for the future. Four years after living together came marriage, and after two years of marriage, the chiming of wedding bells turned into the cry of a newborn, Brady, in February of 2012.
After six years away from her family in Minnesota, Drew proposed a move back to Ali’s Minnesota hometown after seeing how much her family meant to her on a visit home for Mother’s Day in 2012. Leaving the job that he loved meant little compared to Ali and Brady’s wellbeing. As if life couldn’t be scripted any more seamlessly, Drew’s company, not wanting to lose him, agreed to let him work remotely from his new home in Minnesota.
For Ali, Drew and Brady, everything seemed too good to be true.
“Everyone kept telling me that we were eventually going to fight over all these changes,” Ali laughs. “That never happened though.”
Then last August, the young family of three moved into a new home they built together, and having just overcome the challenges of starting a new family, the newly settled Drew found a new challenge in Tough Mudder.
“Drew always wanted to challenge himself and accomplish more,” says Ali. “When Drew stumbled across the Tough Mudder Facebook page in the winter of 2013, he could not stop talking about it.” Turning talk into action, as Drew so often did, he ran Tough Mudder Minnesota 2013 with his cousin’s boyfriend. From the finish line of Minnesota, it was obvious Drew was going to be a lifelong resident of Mudder Nation.
“After the Minnesota event, Drew couldn’t stop talking about it,” Ali recalls. “The sparkle he had in his eye when he talked about Tough Mudder was so cool.”
Not long after crossing the Minnesota finish line, Drew registered for Tough Mudder Kansas 2014, and it energized him even more. According to Ali, Drew looked at Tough Mudder obstacles as metaphors for life, reminders that one must keep fighting through challenges, one at a time, especially when giving up seems like the only option left.
To understand how Drew lived his life, Ali hints to look no further than the on-course photos of Drew at Tough Mudder. “In most of his Tough Mudder pictures, he’s either helping people with his hands out or has a smile on his face,” Ali laughs. “Even as he’s getting electrocuted in Electric Eel, he has a smile on his face. Who laughs getting electrocuted?”
With two Tough Mudder finishes under his belt, Drew was set to earn his third this weekend in Colorado. And while Drew will indeed receive his third finisher headband this weekend, it will be Ali who will be running in his honor and accepting it on his behalf.
Away on a business trip in Chicago in early June this year, Drew died of a heart blockage and undetermined natural causes. Before passing, doctors were able to revive him nine times-- enough for his family to rush to Chicago and sit with him as he died. “The ER nurse said what he did was a miracle,” says Ali. “He fought to stay alive so we could say goodbye.”
Amidst the period of mourning that followed Drew’s death, Ali was responsible for the rote yet agonizing administrative tasks a widow must face--closing bank accounts, canceling gym memberships, closing out hospital bills and the like.
Then there was Tough Mudder.
With Tough Mudder Colorado just a few weeks away, Drew and his teammates were still registered for the race in Snowmass. But was running a Tough Mudder, a high-spirited, adrenaline-fueled event, appropriate? Would getting together a group of Drew’s loved ones so soon after his death be the right thing to do? What would Drew want?
Thinking back to that time in Lake Perry, the “you got this” and “you can do it” echoing in her ear, Ali, who planned to attend as a spectator in support of Drew, was given her answer. Not only would she still attend Tough Mudder Colorado--she’d run it.
Having convinced herself to run in Drew’s place just a week ago, Ali, who will speak at the startline alongside emcee Sean Corvelle, echoing words of inspiration her late gave her about living life to the fullest, knows that she has her work cut out for her.
She won’t be running alone, however.
In addition to Drew’s six would-be teammates, including his brother Derek and brother-in-law Chris, Tough Mudder’s all-time male and female headband earners Jim Campbell (54 finishes) and Devon Musko (45 finishes) have offered to guide Ali through the Colorado course, as Jim says, “to do everything possible to make sure she reaches the finish line.”
“Ali has already told me this will not be her last Tough Mudder,” says Jim, who survived a near-fatal bike crash in 2009, using Tough Mudder as inspiration for his recovery. “Saturday she will become one of us and see what Tough Mudder has brought to our lives.”